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‘He deserved to have his hand held’: Family of veteran lost to COVID-19 speaks out

A man out for a walk and a Utah Highway Patrol trooper look at a table set up by Larissa Hammond and her daughter, Evie, in front of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. The table was decorated with buttons and posters the family made showing the family’s frustration with state leadership and anti-maskers. The Hammonds’ grandfather and great-grandfather, World War II veteran Victor W. Hammond, died of COVID-19 on Veterans Day in a care center with only one family member in the room.
A man out for a walk and a Utah Highway Patrol trooper look at a table set up by Larissa Hammond and her daughter, Evie, in front of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. The table was decorated with buttons and posters the family made showing the family’s frustration with state leadership and anti-maskers. The Hammonds’ grandfather and great-grandfather, World War II veteran Victor W. Hammond, died of COVID-19 on Veterans Day in a care center with only one family member in the room.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

On a day meant to honor men and women like him, Navy veteran Victor Hammond slipped away from those who loved him without feeling the grief in a daughter’s kiss, the longing of a grandchild’s hug or the comfort that comes from clutching the hand of someone who loved him.

It was not the goodbye Victor Hammond deserved.

And that haunts those who loved the Tooele native even more when they see people refusing to acknowledge the grim realities of a pandemic.

“After he sacrificed so much for this country, that’s how the citizens of this country thank him?” said his granddaughter Larissa Hammond, whose grief turned to rage as she watched anti-mask protesters gather outside the homes of Utah’s governor and lieutenant governor over the weekend weekend.

Buttons made by Scott Hammond and his family are pictured at their home in Tooele on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. The buttons show the family’s frustration with state leadership and the way anti-maskers are indulged. Scott Hammond’s grandfather, World War II veteran Victor W. Hammond, died of COVID-19 on Veterans Day in a care center with only one family member in the room.
Buttons made by Scott Hammond and his family are pictured at their home in Tooele on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. The buttons show the family’s frustration with state leadership and the way anti-maskers are indulged. Scott Hammond’s grandfather, World War II veteran Victor W. Hammond, died of COVID-19 on Veterans Day in a care center with only one family member in the room.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“They can’t wear a mask so he has to die alone? It’s tragic. It’s infuriating.”

Victor Hammond enjoyed a full and beautiful life.

“I grew up right next to them when we lived in New Jersey,” said Scott Hammond of his grandfather who joined the Navy in World War II and became a radio technician. “Once I was watching a PBS documentary showing the race to get men into space, and for a split second, there was this shot of the room where they launched the rocket, and there was my grandpa.”

After his service during the war in the Navy, he came home, graduated from Utah State University, and he joined the Air Force. While in the Air Force, he earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan, and he retired a lieutenant colonel. Just a day after retiring, he joined the same office as a civilian worker, and spent time working for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.

“His entire life was national service,” Scott said. “He was a really well-known, well-loved guy. He served on the Pleasant Grove City Council. Anyone who met him would say, ‘Wow, that guy was incredible.’ ... He’s a Renaissance man. I live in his shadow.”

World War II veteran Victor W. Hammond as a Navy Radio Technician 2nd Class. Hammond died from COVID-19 on Veterans Day in a care center with only one family member in the room.
World War II veteran Victor W. Hammond as a Navy Radio Technician 2nd Class. Hammond died from COVID-19 on Veterans Day in a care center with only one family member in the room.
Handout

Hammond, a 96-year-old World War II veteran, was residing in a long-term care facility in Springville. His daughter Jo Ann Munk, dressed in full protective gear, was allowed to visit him the night before he died, and the family said their goodbyes over speakerphone. Long-term care facilities like the one where Hammond lived have been the epicenter of Utah’s COVID-19-related deaths accounting for 235 of Utah’s 723 deaths as of Monday.

Hammond contracted the virus just a few days before dying, his body too old and tired to fight off the infection that somehow found him despite most of these facilities instituting severe visitor restrictions. He died, Larissa points out, on Veterans Day — Nov. 11.

Larissa Hammond said her husband, Scott, spoke their goodbyes on her behalf because she “was wailing.”

To her, it was more than just losing a grandfather. It was the way his life was ending that filled her with pain so searing that sobbing was the only relief she could find. And it has been a temporary harbor from the realities of losing a loved one to COVID-19, an illness that is spread through a new coronavirus and has somehow become a political issue, despite the real and constant human suffering.

“He was like a father figure to me,” she said through tears Monday. “He loved me so much. He was just a good, generous man, always supporting people around him. ... We heard from someone else, after we posted about his death, that he’d paid for their wedding.”

A native of Brazil, Larissa Hammond said that when she and Scott were getting married, her grandfather told her about being stationed in Brazil during World War II and how he’d had a Brazilian girlfriend.

“He loved that his grandson married a Brazilian girl,” she said, the sobs cutting off her words. “It’s just not right that someone so kind and generous goes this way. ... He deserved to have his hand held.”

Scott Hammond contrasts the death to that of Victor Hammond’s wife, Laura, who passed away in August 2019. Family crowded into her hospital room, moving in and out, spending time, cherishing their last moments together.

“To have this experience now of just not being able to be there, saying goodbye over the phone, it was devastating,” he said. “I don’t know that I have words to describe it.”

Larissa Hammond took to social media to express her pain and her disgust that some people are so openly mocking and refusing to abide by public health guidelines that could have prevented many of the deaths that have occurred. The Hammonds are incredulous that the death rate is so acceptable when these are real families being torn apart by loss, and the grieving process is so foreign and restricted, that they can’t even mourn the losses in a way that feels sufficient.

Scott Hammond, left, and his wife, Larissa, right, and their children William and Evie, make buttons and posters to show their frustration with state leadership and anti-maskers at their house in Tooele on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Scott Hammond’s grandfather, World War II veteran Victor W. Hammond, died of COVID-19 on Veterans Day in a care center with only one family member in the room.
Scott Hammond, left, and his wife, Larissa, right, and their children William and Evie, make buttons and posters to show their frustration with state leadership and anti-maskers at their house in Tooele on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Scott Hammond’s grandfather, World War II veteran Victor W. Hammond, died of COVID-19 on Veterans Day in a care center with only one family member in the room.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Larissa Hammond said people will look at his long life and feel like it’s not that big a deal that COVID-19 stole him the way it did.

“He didn’t deserve to die with his lungs turned into COVID swiss cheese because other people are selfish and they can’t stay home or wear a mask,” she said.

“I was at a store and there was a woman not wearing a mask. I was talking to a clerk about it, and the woman overheard me, and confronted me. I was standing there crying for 10 minutes. When I told her he was a veteran, she said, ‘And I thank him for his service.’ I said, ‘This (pointing at her mask) is thanking him for his service.’”

Her anger turned to resolve Sunday, after she saw Gov.-elect Spencer Cox tweet out a picture of cookies that he planned to give to protesters who were picketing outside his Fairview home.

“He’s basically feeding the plague rat,” she said. “If they had their faces covered, and they had signs saying a Black person’s life matters, do you think they would get cookies? It’s disgusting. These people are killing other people with their germs, and they’re getting cookies. That was the thing that sent me over the edge.”

Hammond said she and her family made signs and buttons and they planned their own awareness campaign at the state Capitol. She said she was giving away the buttons she’d made, and her goal was simply to get people to think past politics and remember that what public health officials are really trying to do is save lives.

Her husband sums up their frustration.

“This was preventable,” Scott Hammond said. “If we’d done what scientists and experts said, we wouldn’t be in as terrible a situation as we are. I vacillate between sad and depressed states and white-hot rage. I guess it’s part of the grieving process.”